International Day of Older Persons was on Sunday October 1st. The day is a chance to celebrate the contribution that older people make, bringing their wisdom and experience to the work place and as caregivers and volunteers in the community. But sadly, in New Zealand, many older people don’t feel valued members of society.
Public Trust and Pureprofile are both organisations which spend a lot of their time listening to the needs of older New Zealanders. To raise awareness of International Day of Older Persons they asked Kiwis aged over 65 if they feel discrimination against older people is a problem here. A shocking 37% feel it is. Many of the survey respondents speak of the elderly being sterotyped: younger people act like they are less able both physically and mentally, when in reality, they don’t feel, think or act old. “I go to the gym, Pilates and rock concerts, so don’t judge me!” said one participant.
As we all know, age is but a number and there are plenty of examples of successful “elderly” New Zealanders still working well into their “retirement years”. Consider, for example, former Prime Minister Head of the United Nations Development Programme, Helen Clark (67), Artist Dick Frizzel (74) and Childrens’ Author Joy Cowley (81).
Almost half of those surveyed feel that others had assumed that they couldn’t do something because they are older. “People think that because you are old, you are stupid” was a common sentiment amongst survey participants. Sometimes there was little respect for their opinions and recognition for the perspective they bring. Many feel this is strange, given that the over 65 age group is growing fast and will more than double in size by 2038.
Over a third have been excluded from opportunities because of their age – this is felt most keenly in the workplace. Skills and experience seem to be unappreciated once they reach a certain age. This can block access to jobs or opportunities for advancement. “(We) have a great deal of knowledge that can be tapped into for mentoring, etc. but we seem to be just cast off…”
Age discrimination also impacts the way the elderly are spoken to with almost 30% feeling that they have been spoken to differently because of their age. This includes others raising their voice when speaking to them or being called patronising names such as “love” or “dear”.
International Day of Older Persons is New Zealand’s opportunity to recognise the contributions of older persons to society and to ensure their dignity.